Labor Day Facts

Labor Day Facts (September 2nd)

If you are like most people, when you think of Labor Day, you think of a long weekend of grilling out, swimming and getting in one last party before the end of summer. There are usually tons of activities and festivities to enjoy.

However, you might not know that there are a lot of interesting facts about Labor Day itself. It might have you thinking a little differently about this holiday.

The First Labor Day
The very first Labor Day celebration was observed on Tuesday, September 5th, 1882 in New York City. The facts surrounding the beginning are rather intriguing:

  • It has been argued as to who first proposed the Labor Day celebration. Some say it was Peter J. McGuire, a general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor. Others say it was a machinist, Matthew Maguire.
  • What is clear from history is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal. Then they appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.
  • It was not until 1884 that the holiday began being celebrated on Monday.
  • By 1885, the holiday began being celebrated in many other industrialized cities as the “workingmen’s holiday.” This was in part due to the expansion of labor unions.
  • The first Labor Day proposal included a street parade, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.
  • 10,000 workers marched from City Hall and ended up at Wendel’s Elm Park to enjoy a picnic with their families. There they enjoyed food, concerts and speeches.
  • Labor Day was meant to celebrate the nation’s strength, freedom and leadership of the American worker.
  • Labor Day came about nearly 2 decades BEFORE the U.S. Department of Labor even existed.

Other fun facts about Labor Day

As the Labor Day holiday began to expand, so does the interesting facts surrounding it.

  • The first state to legally make Labor Day a holiday was Oregon in 1887.
  • In the 19th century, Americans typically worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week!
  • On September 3, 1916, the Adamson Act was passed to establish an 8 hour work day.
  • You’ve probably heard the old adage “don’t wear white after Labor Day.” This comes from the upper class returning from their summer vacations and putting away their lightweight, white summer clothes as they return to work and school.
  • Labor Day is often seen as the end of summer, however summer officially ends September 21st.
  • Labor Day is considered one of the busiest weekends to travel. If you have travel plans, you can expect to share the road with over 35 million fellow Americans.
  • Labor Day also happens to be a popular weekend for babies to be born. You can expect over 10,000 babies to be delivered in that weekend alone.

Facts about the American Workers in the 1800s

  • Besides working 12 hour days, 7 days a week, sometimes the workers were as young as 5 years old.
  • Even though legislation passed to reduce the number of hours you could work in a day, it wouldn’t be until the 1930’s that the federal government took an active role in this issue.
  • Wages were considerably low and the working environment was very dangerous. (OSHA wasn’t even around until the 1970’s!)
  • The first major effort to organize workers’ groups on a nationwide basis happened in 1869 with The Noble Order of the Knights of Labor.
  • Women employed significantly rose from 1880 to 1900 from 2.6 to 8.6 million.
  • By 1890, 18% of the labor force consisted of children between the ages of ten and fifteen.
  • By the 1900s, there were 25-35,000 work related deaths and 1 million work related injuries happening each year! It was also rare to win a claim against a company for negligence or poor working conditions.

Facts about American Workers in 2019

  • Union membership has fallen. In 1954, nearly 35% of workers were part of a union. Now, that number has sunk to about 11%.
  • Self employment is on the rise. It accounts for about 3 in 10 U.S. jobs.
  • Millennials are now the largest sector of the labor force. They account for more than one third of the working class. Generation X only hung onto that title for 3 years before the millennials (ages 18-34) took over.
  • There is a decline in teens working a summer job.
  • By contrast, older Americans (65 and older) are working full-time jobs.
  • College degree holders out earn non-degree holders significantly. This should come as no surprise, but earning that college degree means more cash in your hand. You can expect to earn approximately 56% more than if you did not have a degree.

Final Thoughts

This year, as you enjoy your last long summer weekend of swimming and barbecuing, remember those who had slightly worse working conditions. The unions did help improve those conditions, but it really wasn’t until the government stepped in to enforce the law that things really changed.